Advocates claim disability facility should be closed

Booneville center decrepit, restraint overused, they say

An advocacy group said Monday that admissions to a Booneville disability facility should be halted immediately and its existing clients be gradually moved out of the facility.

The action, recommended in a report released Monday by Disability Rights Arkansas, would displace about 129 developmentally disabled clients who live at the Boone­ville Human Development Center and would leave about 311 staff members out of work. Disability Rights Arkansas is an independent nonprofit organization designated since 1977 by Arkansas governors to implement the federally funded and authorized protection of disabled people.

The facility is in dangerous disrepair, with crumbling asbestos walls and roofs; a room filled with piles of garbage; unmoored, aged electrical wiring; and a deserted swimming pool full of stagnant water, the advocacy group said in the 20-page report.

The Logan County facility also has an inordinate number of patient-restraint incidents -- either by mechanical or chemical means -- compared with the state's other human development centers operated by the Department of Human Services, the report cited.

Closing the facility may seem like a drastic step, the report said, but "it is the one that makes the most economic sense for Arkansas and the safety of the residents."

The report was compiled after the watchdog group conducted 22 monitoring visits to the Logan County facility between January and October last year. The citations are backed up with photos of the aging building -- which was originally opened in 1910 as a relocation center for tuberculosis patients.

"The facilities at the Boone­ville HDC are outdated at best and dangerous at worst," the report says.

Amy Webb, Department of Human Services spokesman, said the agency is "acutely aware of the condition of the buildings on campus" and has "similar concerns about the physical plant itself."

Webb said the photographs in the report are not of areas where residents live, and the room full of "trash" is actually bags filled with loops of fabric that residents use to make rugs, which they sell to the public.

Improvements are needed, Webb said, but "they would take a great deal of money that we do not currently have."

"So, instead, we are doing everything we can to ensure the residents are safe and comfortable. That includes not using certain buildings or floors of buildings and limiting resident access to only places that we feel they can safely visit," Webb said.

"Our staff are ever mindful of the conditions of buildings and work hard to keep residents and the public alike away from potential hazards. We have made repairs, including to roofs and plumbing, when funding allows."

The report also cited that, from June through September, the Booneville facility had 338 patient-restraint issues compared with 18 at the Arkadelphia Human Development Center, 55 at the Jonesboro Human Development Center and 80 at the Southeast Arkansas Human Development Center. The Conway Human Development Center was not included in that comparison because it houses more than double the clients of the other facilities.

"That indicates there is a problem," said Justin Nickels, spokesman for Disability Rights Arkansas.

Rita Edwards, whose mentally disabled brother has been a resident of the Booneville facility for more than 35 years, said she has never had a problem with the center and that her brother's quality of life has been improved exponentially by his inpatient care.

"They are wonderful. The buildings are in bad shape, and we have been trying to get funding for a while to get some of them removed and construct new living facilities," Edwards said. "But my brother is very happy there. There are other clients I've seen there who would not have the quality of life outside the human development center setting."

Nickels said he hopes the report prompts action from the state.

"It only takes the executive branch to rescind funding for the development center, and it could close tomorrow if they wanted," he said. "We want the phased-out approach to allow the people living in the facility and the employees to find alternatives."

When asked, Nickels said there are not enough community-based providers in the Booneville area to absorb the clients who would be in need of care if the facility is closed.

"It would create a need for community-based care," Nickels said. "If the state phases out the closure, there would be time to develop other options."

District 74 state Rep. Jon Eubanks, R-Paris, said he is a frequent visitor to the Booneville facility and has taken several legislators on tours there. The report from Disability Rights Arkansas, he said, was generated because of a "difference in philosophy" about institutional care.

In the report, the Disability Rights Arkansas said Arkansas is behind the rest of the nation in integrating developmentally disabled patients into residential community settings.

"Ultimately, we have to do what is best for those clients," Eubanks said. "I will try to take an objective view on everything that is presented. But, honestly, they're going to be hard-pressed to convince me that these people can be better served using their philosophy."

State Desk on 01/06/2015

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